Even so, a number of local leaders say they were never consulted about whether they even need the amendment.
State Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, introduced the measure, which would prohibit any municipality in Calhoun County from instituting a business license fee for landlords on a per unit basis. Wood introduced the bill, House Bill 763, after the Anniston City Council approved such a fee in 2009. The fee was later rescinded following an outcry from local landlords.
“That was ridiculous,” Wood said. “I don’t have a problem with them if they have a rental fee if they want to; that’s their business, but not when it comes to per rental house.”
The local legislators, Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and Sen. Jim Preuitt, R-Talladega, all voted for the legislation. Rep. Steve Hurst, D-Munford, was sick the day of the vote and said he couldn’t comment since he hadn’t read the legislation.
Marsh said he was concerned that a rental business license on a per unit basis could hurt hotels as well as landlords.
“I just think it’s a bigger tax on business, and at this point in time with this economy, I don’t think we need to create any more taxes on business,” Marsh said. “I just don’t think it’s good policy. Any way you look at it, it’s a tax increase.”
Both Jacksonville and Oxford have fees on rental properties. Jacksonville’s fee is based on rental receipts. Once a landlord takes in $8,000, he or she is subject to a $50 fee, plus $1.50 per $1,000 in gross receipts.
Finance Director Rita Spruiell said Jacksonville would not be affected by the amendment, because its fees are not assessed on a per unit basis.
“Ours has to do with income,” Spruiell said.
Oxford, however, would be affected. Oxford charges a business license fee of $5 per unit for apartment buildings and mobile home lots. It takes in about $3,500 a year, according to a revenue officer who refused to give her name.
Wood was unaware that Oxford already has a per-unit business license, but said he still believes a per-unit fee is wrong.
“I want to make sure that the people of Anniston and Calhoun County are taken care of,” he said. “Let’s let the people decide on that particular issue.”
Marsh said it was fine that Oxford had the business license fee.
“I’m not telling individual cities what they need to do,” he said. “I do think that this is the wrong direction to allow that type taxation.”
But Marsh does acknowledge that if the amendment passed, it would mean Oxford would have to either change or discontinue its business license fee on rental properties.
Some local officials think the amendment unduly interferes with local government.
City Manager Don Hoyt said Anniston’s rental property business license ordinance was introduced as a way to create an inventory of local rental properties for the city to be able to enforce its existing rental ordinance requiring all rental properties be up to local codes. The City Council has since passed a rental inspection ordinance to allow it to enforce the rental ordinance.
Hoyt said he finds it interesting that a state legislator would introduce a constitutional amendment to protect so few people.
“That’s just trying to protect a few rent property owners,” Hoyt said. “It’s a constitutional amendment, but it only protects a very few. That’s it. And only in Calhoun County. ...You can draw your own conclusions about the veracity of that.”
Mayor Gene Robinson has drawn some conclusions.
“I’m totally against it, of course,” Robinson said. “I wasn’t conferred with and none of the council that I’m aware of was conferred with. You’d think we would’ve been.”
Calhoun County is the only county impacted and Anniston is the municipality that inspired the legislation, Robinson said.
Brown said he hadn’t thought about the message the proposed amendment might appear to be sending to local government officials when he voted for the bill.
“I just felt like it might put an unfair burden, especially on those, the lesser of us, that are renting,” Brown said. “Maybe it’s a lesson to me and others that if a bill is proposed that will have any kind of effect on a municipality, that we need to discuss it with the council or with the mayor.”
Robinson said that’s what he’d like to see.
“I hope that in the future we would have better communications and better relationships where he talks to us and gets our feedback first,” the mayor said.
Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545.